British teams are champs

18th June 2004 at 01:00
This nation leads the world in governance and the Russians wanted to know why. Nigel Gann helped them out.

What can other countries learn from us about school governance? Governors here may complain about overload, centralisation or constant re-organisation but throughout the world, the English and Welsh model of local lay governance attracts admirers and - sincerest form of flattery - imitation.

Last summer, the Russian minister of education Vladimir Filippov visited Education Secretary Charles Clarke. He came away with the belief that lay governance of schools could ensure that democracy would penetrate yet another aspect of Russian life.

But bringing in such governance will mean a huge shift from Russia's traditional heavily centralised structure where heads still rule the roost.

The British Council was asked to assist policy-makers in Russia. A team was put together to give legal and strategic advice. That team was led by Jenny Bulled, head of Henry Cort school in Fareham, Hampshire, who was seconded to the British Council for the autumn term last year. Other members were Annabelle Guyver, head of Alcester high school technology college; John Adams, former chair of the National Association of Governors and Managers; and two education consultants specialising in governance issues, Wendy Cairns and I.

The team gave seminars for policy-makers and met the minister to describe the processes of governance in England and Wales.

Before the seminars, the team visited the imaginatively-named School 548 - an all-age comprehensive in Tsaritsyno, a Moscow suburb.

Here the principal, Yefim Rachevsky, has already created advisory boards of parents and local businesses. Rachevsky is determined to give these boards real power, although the education department's original plan was that such boards should only be created on the principal's say-so.

There is an enormous PR job to be done in this massive country - stretching more than 6,000 miles from west to east.

The main obstacles to introducing a British-style system will be among the principals who have historically enjoyed almost autocratic powers in their schools.

But much selling has to be done among parents, too, to convince them that they have a role in educational decision-making - and an absolute right to play that role.

So maybe we are not that different in this country. While British heads may never have enjoyed absolute control of their schools, there are some who still cling to the illusion that they are not accountable to their governing bodies.

Indeed some governors still collude in that: so much is clear from the letters sent to TES advice columnist Joan Sallis.

Owing to the complications of federal law, Russia may not be able to impose a single model of school governance from Moscow to Vladivostok. But there are at least five regions, including Moscow in European Russia and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, willing to try a pilot scheme.

Our journeys are parallel: we may pride ourselves that we are further ahead than Russia, but few countries could have come as far as in such a short time.

Nigel Gann is an education consultant and author specialising in school improvement through improved governance. He can be contacted through his website:

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